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Project Wonderscape: the work of Ilya Somov and his marvelous Somographic Camera. An illustrated story by Stefano Moscardini.
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Back in 2010 all we knew about professor Ilya Somov was his appearance. A single, not so well preserved portrait of him as a student was all that survived the apparent purge that befell everything related to the Russian scientist during the sixties.

Luckily, the photograph was enough to awaken the interest of a team of researchers around the globe that, in an almost archaeological joint effort, managed to bring back to light the work of Ilya Somov.


Project Wonderscape is about the most amazing invention of professor Ilya Somov: Somography.


Somography (peculiarly named after Ilya's surname, the greek concept of "soma" and the cell body of the neuron) is a photographic technique developed by professor Somov around 1947, as part of a Russian secret scientific project. The aim of the research was to develop a working "mind-reading device", primarily intended for spy-exposing duty.

In his own words, Somov developed a machine capable of "taking photographs" of the subject's "self, or, if you prefer, soul". The Somographic Camera was tested on several different subjects during the end of the forties and the resulting material is astonishing.

Unluckily, the project was perceived as a total failure by the Russian scientific establishment of the time and was abruptly suspended. All the material was to be destroyed, and for more than sixty years it was believed that nothing survived the purge, not even the sheer notion of its existence.

In the last two years, Rescue Team Somov (as they named their own unconventional team of urban archaeologists, scientists, activists and civilians) managed to find Somov's private safe house, where more than a hundred samples of his works were stored, far from the censors grasp.

Of the consistent amount of samples, a few were the product of his Somographic Camera, with related side notes and parallel measurements.


The ones that follow are seven restored Somographies recorded from seven different female subjects (or "models", as Somov used to call them), brought to life thanks to the original images, recorded by Somov's machinery, and the side recorded colorimetric datas, multiple spectrographies and handwritten notes.

The titles of the images are the test subjects first names, as Somov himself used to catalogue them in his private archives.







Анаста́си́я
(Anastasiya)








Екатери́на
(Yekaterina)







Полина
(Polyna)










Аглаий
(Aglaii)









Борислава
(Borislava)







Аня
(Anya)








Ярослава
(Yaroslava)